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(12/22/01 8:58:10 am)
Reply | Edit | Del All A small action in Afganistan
From today's N.Y. Times......

After securing the remote desert airstrip code-named Rhino, marines in armored vehicles and Humvees, led by Force Reconnaissance troops in fast-attack vehicles, fanned out across the south on Dec. 5, blocking every road to Kandahar.

The 15th's 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Company moved north from Rhino to cut off Route 1 between Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. The force included only 100 marines and was intended to operate with relative stealth.

On the morning of Dec. 7, in moonless darkness, the company arrayed itself along a stretch of Route 1; their exact location cannot be disclosed under ground rules imposed on journalists accompanying the marines. After waiting till early morning, hoping to avoid encountering Afghan civilians, Marine scouts strung concertina wire to create a C-shaped obstacle across the narrow, worn road.

"The idea was that at that time of morning, all the moms and pops and farmers would be off the road," said the Marine F/A-18 pilot acting as forward air controller, who spoke on condition that he be identified only by his call sign, Neck. "We were looking for bad guys."

When the first vehicle was stopped by the wire, the marines with Force Reconnaissance drove their fast-attack vehicle up a slight hill onto the road, shining a light into the S.U.V.

Under the marines' rules of engagement, the vehicle was considered hostile by failing to stop. Even so, said Cpl. Hamed J. Aziz, an Afghan-born marine who was also acting as an interpreter, the marines ordered the men inside to get out of the S.U.V. They began to get out with their AK-47's.

It was not clear whether the men ever fired a shot. The marines from Force Reconnaissance opened fire, igniting fuel and ammunition in the back of the vehicle. "It started cooking off like a powder keg," the pilot known as Neck said. "Rounds started cooking off." A couple of rocket- propelled grenades fired off down the

A Marine sniper shot one man inside through the passenger door and then another as he clambered out, his clothes ablaze, said Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly, a combat correspondent who was with the sniper 250 feet away.

Then, as quickly as the firefight erupted, the marines pulled back, abandoning the road even as the rest of the convoy became visible when each of the vehicles turned on its lights.

Instead of attacking, which one officer said would have been difficult with only a company of marines, Neck sorted through a steady stream of images and reconnaissance reports from F/A-18's, an Air Force E- 8C Joint Stars surveillance plane and a Navy P-3C circling overhead, tracking the vehicles as they tried to drive around the roadblock.

With marines acting as spotters, he said, he began to call in strikes after 10 minutes of watching the vehicles edge their way along a ridgeline a half-mile north of Route 1. Two F/A-18's, two F-14's and two F-16's attacked in waves. Their first six bombs, two 1,000-pound guided bombs and four 500-pound guided bombs, struck in 30-second intervals. After a four-minute pause, in which the P-3C surveyed the wreckage, the jets dropped two more 500-pound guided bombs.

For the marines, who are used to operating in tandem with their own air force, it was a perfectly executed choreography of air and ground power among different military branches. A C.I.A. operative here told one Marine officer it was the most effective single attack he had ever seen.

More important, the marines said, as the Taliban fled Kandahar the next day, no one drove along Route 1. "Obviously, we could have bombed the entire highway, killing everybody driving on it," Neck said. "You have to have marines on the ground to hit the target the way we did."
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